Toxic plants common in homes, gardens

Published 11:30 am Friday, August 22, 2014

A variety of common household and ornamental garden plants can seriously sicken children or pets that unwittingly take a nibble.

A comprehensive list of toxic plants is pages long, but many everyday ornamentals like philodendrons and azaleas are toxic to some degree, Dr. Wayne Porter, a horticulturalist with Mississippi State Extension Service said Thursday during a statewide videoconference.

“Basically everything in my yard is toxic — everything but the grass,” Porter said.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

Because many common toxic plants are brightly colored they are attractive to children and pets, Porter said.

“Most of poisonings we see in people are children generally under the age of 5,” he said.

Nationally, the No. 1 call to poison control is about children eating the popular indoor plant philodendron, Porter said.

“The best thing to do is put it up where the children can’t get it,” he said.

Many outdoor plants including azaleas and rhododendrons can also cause nausea, vomiting, difficulty breathing and coma.

“If we had to pull up all those in the state of Mississippi, we would look like a barren wasteland,” Porter said.

Rather than try to eliminate the plants, parents and grandparents should educate their children on what plants are edible and what plants are best avoided. Think of it in the same way as educating children about dangerous animals, he said.

“By the time they’re school age, they should know a lot of these things,” Porter said.

Some edible plants are also poisonous. Leaves, bark and seeds of cherries, peaches and plums all contain toxic compounds, Porter said. Then there’s the Southern staple pokeweed, which is typically boiled three or more times before consumption.

“My momma never told me it was poisonous when she was feeding it to me as a child,” Porter said.

Other poisonous plants such as foxglove have astounding medical uses in small doses, he said. Foxglove is used to produce digoxigenin, which is used to regulate heartbeats, he said.

“A lot of the plants that we consider poisonous, we also use for medical purposes,” he said. “In low doses it may be great as medicine, but at high doses it becomes toxic.”

For anyone who may have been poisoned by a common toxic plant, Porter suggests calling the national poison control hotline at 1-800-222-1222. When calling be able to describe the plant and the approximate amount the person who has been poisoned has eaten.